The Michigan State fan’s guide to the final week of the Big Ten regular season


Sarah Smith

Tiernan Shoudy hops over a Penn State defender during Michigan State’s tie with No. 5 Penn State on January 14, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Jacob Stinson, Hockey Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING – Saturday’s 6-2 loss at Wisconsin threw a wrench into Michigan State’s postseason plans. The Spartans are now on the outside looking in to make the NCAA Tournament, and they’re in danger of having to play the first round of the Big Ten tournament on the road.

Michigan State’s second bye happens to be the last week of the regular season, so its fate is controlled by the rest of the Big Ten. 

There are three series this weekend: Wisconsin at Penn State, Notre Dame at Michigan and Ohio State at Minnesota. While the latter won’t have much effect on the Spartans, the other two are critical to determine whether MSU gets home-ice advantage. 

So what should Michigan State fans want? Who needs to win for the Big Ten playoffs to come to Munn Ice Arena? What needs to happen to put MSU back into NCAA Tournament contention?

Let’s take a look at both tournaments and see what is the best case scenario.

Big Ten Tournament

The format for the Big Ten tournament is simple: the first seed, which Minnesota clinched, gets a first-round bye. The remaining six teams face off in a best-of-three series. The winners are then reseeded for the semifinals, and everything from that point on is single elimination. Every game is held at the home rink of the team with the higher seed.

The points system in college is more complicated than the NHL version. If you’re unfamiliar, it works like this:

  • Three points for a regulation win.
  • Two points for an overtime/shootout win.
  • One point for an overtime/shootout loss.
  • No points for a regulation loss.

OK, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s look at how this applies to the current standings.

Michigan State has 34 points — three ahead of both Penn State and Notre Dame. That lands the Spartans in fourth place, which is the lowest possible seed for home-ice advantage. To remain that way, the stars need to align in the final week.

First, Michigan needs to take care of business against Notre Dame. Both teams split in November, but now in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines will need to take at least four of six points.

Second, Wisconsin needs to beat Penn State at least once in State College. The Nittany Lions can get no more than three points to stay behind the Spartans. It is a tall order, however — PSU is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games, but the Badgers have yet to win a conference road game.

The Big Ten’s tie-breaking procedures are complicated, to say the least, so MSU can’t win if all three teams are tied at 34 points. Two-way ties are broken by head-to-head records, and since the Spartans are 2-1-1 against both Penn State and Notre Dame, they would win in that case. 

However, if all three are tied, then the conference resorts to overall conference win percentage. In that case, it comes down to ties. Notre Dame has three, Michigan State has two and Penn State one. There, ties count as a half of a win, so the Irish would win in that situation, making MSU the fifth seed.

The chances of Munn Ice Arena hosting a Big Ten tournament game are low. gives it a 22% chance of happening, mostly because of PSU-Wisconsin. However, the Badgers have knocked off both MSU and Minnesota in back-to-back weeks, so anything is possible.

NCAA Tournament

If you missed it, I wrote an earlier article about what Michigan State needed to do to make the NCAA Tournament. I recommend checking that out if you haven’t, since that explains how the selection process works.

The loss to Wisconsin significantly hurt the Spartans’ chances. They’re now down to No. 18 in PairWise, which makes them the third team out after Alaska and Notre Dame.

PairWise is designed to reward teams for winning against quality competition. When Michigan State lost, Omaha — which is 9-1-1 since Dec. 31 — took its place.

The Spartans’ advantage is that the Big Ten is loaded with high-end teams, so there’s ample opportunity for quality wins. While they’re on the outside now, if they win the first round of the conference playoffs, consider them locks for the tournament.

According to, MSU has a 43% chance to face Penn State in the conference tournament. The Nittany Lions only beat the Spartans once in four tries, but they’re ranked No. 7 in PairWise. Therefore, two wins against a top team should be more than enough to catapult Michigan State into a playoff spot.